Travelling in India… as a woman... alone

Recently there has been lots of news about women being raped in India. It started with one case in December 2012, when a twenty something year old student from New Delhi was group raped in a bus. 5 guys raped her in a bus with no one intervening to stop it, nor even to help her afterwards. If raping her multiple times wasn’t bad enough she was beaten and tortured with an iron stick. When the men were done they threw her off the bus and left her badly injured on the street. If I remember well, even then people who witnessed partially the scene never came to help her – at least not immediately.

I’m not pretending to give a report of her case, I just know that she wasn’t even in an Indian hospital; she was brought into another country to receive the best treatment possible, since her uterus was destroyed and many body parts in severe condition. She was in coma and eventually she died.

This event provoked a reaction of rage among many New Delhi citizens – a lot of them women.

Now there has been the case of the Swiss couple who was making a bike tour through India. In a random village they stopped to camp and pass the night. 8 guys attacked them, handcuffed the husband and group raped the 39 year old women. He had to witness everything. Now a police officer was cynical enough to say that the couple was to be blamed for that! The argument? They were in a place where they shouldn’t have to.

I remember when I was in Bodhgaya, I read a newspaper note about a Spanish girl who was staying in a homestay. An Indian guy came through the balcony into her room, raped and robbed her.

Then I heard of cases during the Kalachakra event (a huge days lasting ceremony with the Dalai Lama in January 2012), that several nuns got raped; as well as I remember that I met two Indian men in Bodhgaya, who were into politics and pretty much known in the town. One was owner of several establishments (food and clothes), the other the chairman of a big NGO. They were interested in knowing me because of my profile and experience in social business; I brought a lot of new ideas of possible projects to do in Bodhgaya and we started to talk about making something together.

One day one of them invited me to a dinner party he would have at his place. After a few months of travelling in India and Nepal I became much more cautious and suspiciously, so I asked him how many people were going. Five friends. And will your wife and the other wives be there as well? No, you know, Indian women have another mentality, India is still different, so Indian women don’t go to parties.

 I refused to go alone. I thought about what it was about: So Indian women are not allowed or it’s “not their culture” to go to parties, but western women are allowed, or what?!” It didn’t make sense. Or did it? I mean, I have been thinking about it for a long time, and not only because recently there have been so many raping cases. These things have been occurring since a long time, but now finally the world knows about it. Now, more than ever I wonder what would have happened if I would have gone? Trusting in people who seem to be decent, married men? I can’t even imagine, I don’t want to imagine it.

So, the impression that I have now – and I mean in retrospective because it is now, after a several months being back from India, that I am getting awareness of what I’ve experienced and observed – is that most of the Indian society is a big deal twisted in their minds. On one hand guys are allowed to walk hand in hand and hug each other in public, but a married couple is not allowed to show any kind of affection: no hugs, no hand holding, no kissing – that would be obscene!

There are all this funny Bollywood movies where beautiful women are dressed like Britney Spears in her video “Hit me baby one more time”, dancing lascivious with the protagonist hero, seducing each other with looks and touches and all the theatre. But the common Indian couple doesn’t even choose each other because of love rather than of cast and status convenience.

From what I could see is that women are married so men can take their dowry, they cook and have children, sometimes they can be intelligent and study but it doesn’t mean that women get more affection because of that.

In many towns and villages, once the dowry is spent, the women “suddenly caches fire in the kitchen” and she burns to death, or commits mysteriously suicide and the man gets married again. A happy marriage as long as the dowry lasts.

Since women don’t have any status no one wants to have a daughter, that’s why baby girls are murdered.

In a culture where once the Kama sutra was drawn, where temples full of erotic sculptures where built and where in it symbols of phallus and vaginas still are not only represented but also venerated, where sexuality is extremely shown in movies but not practiced at home and where gays are sick and perverted but guys can walk around hugging each other when women or girls are not allowed to do so… I don’t wonder why all this group raping is occurring. The cliché of this open and flexible culture was for me the discovery of a highly repressed and twisted one.

And then there come the western women along. Of course Indians know them from the movies: Hollywood and the liberality. Where in India a women needs to cover practically everything that could provoke, in the west they run around almost naked (at least in the eyes of an Indian). Even if I was warned that I should be careful because Indian men consider western girls as cheap porn stars, I wasn’t fully aware. But yes, I felt treated like a cheap object, like someone with so little value that it is easy to exchange, like someone who has money but no virtues.

I was naïve in many situations, blind in a few and seldom wise enough to not get in trouble while travelling alone in India and Nepal. For sure I have been more dumb than courageous to go alone and travel on my own in a sexist, repressed country.

So eventually I got into a problem. And ironically it wasn’t an Indian man. I mean, I got harassed once by an Indian guy, many tried to flirt with me, one tried to get me to sleep with him, I was stared at by tons but never one single dude tried to force me into something. It was a Tibetan who did it. The whole experience is so embarrassing that I still can’t find the words to write it down. Still I want to do it, because I want to warn other girls and women by sharing my experience. The thing is that it has been a process of coping with an event that implies being manipulated and used and blackmailed and I don’t know what. So bit by bit I am dealing with it, dealing with the shame and the anger, the frustration and self-reproaches. Eventually I hope I will be able to tell my story.

 

Merrifield, USA on March 29, 2013

©Kirsten Liliane López Lüke